Another Weird Trigger for Insight

I was just the right age for the first Spider-Man film. I was twelve, maybe eleven, when Spider-Man was released at the end of my first day at a Star Wars convention. At the theater, my dad and my friend and I saw a lot of the same faces from the convention. The same sci-fi space opera nerds were also comic book geeks, which should be sort of obvious. Back in 2002 there was a really palpable enthusiasm for a superhero movie’s release. I saw a Stormtrooper take off his helmet and put on a Spidey mask. People cheered at the opening credits. I got goosebumps, partly because of their enthusiasm and partly because, even if I wasn’t alive for the forty years between Spider-Man’s introduction and his theatrical debut, I had gone back and loved him in my little span of time. Hollywood was filming the “unfilmable,” which is the same thing Hollywood said about the Lord of the Rings. Nothing’s unfilmable. Executives just try to suppress their imagination for as long as possible.

I went to a comic book club at the Fort Wayne public library when I was ten. The older kids were discussing the ins-and-outs (relatively, the utter minutia) of heroes. What they thought about ___ Crisis, or whatever. I asked if they knew anything about Pokemon and they laughed at me. That’s a totally fair response, especially in that environment. I’d do it now.

So my parents got me Marvel encyclopedias for one of my childhood birthdays. Hulk, Spidey, and the X-Men. I still have them. I remember poring over them, memorizing every character and their respective powers. I read every comic book I could get my hands on, but there were a lot of back-issues too expensive for my little allowance. Also, the 90s were a dark time and tried to be “gritty” and “adult” in ways that would offend my parents if they looked over my shoulder. So I read a lot about Cable without often having Cable issues in front of me. Did you know that one time Magneto ripped the adamantium out of Wolverine? Woah! The X-Force kills people! This picture of Mojo and his Mojoverse actually sort of scares the hell out of me!

The second X-Men film came out on a middle school band trip to St. Louis. It’s the best (was the best?) in that film series and definitely better than the first. I remember taking glances at my friends after the film’s best scenes, locking eyes and wordlessly asking them, “Are you seeing this? Can you believe they were paid millions of dollars to film this? This is so good – is this what we missed out on for not being alive in the 60s?” I saw X2 in the theater at least three more times.

What happened later in the decade is that the money got to be too much and the egos got to be too big. Executives wanted too many villains in Spider-Man 3 and dudebros got to direct X-Men movies and you tried to justify it, you tried to make it seem okay, you wanted that enthusiasm but it wasn’t really there. “Well, we have Venom now. That’s cool. Angel was in his movie for a total of four minutes and still got on the poster hanging outside. Better than nothing, right?” The movies started to suck and the directors and actors knew they sucked and everyone moved on. I remember remaining optimistic that 4 will turn it around! Spider-Man 4 will be great, X-Men 4….uh, clearly I hadn’t watched Superman 4: THE QUEST FOR PEACE.

It’s like I became resentful at every reboot announcement. Now Peter Parker isn’t a dorky anxious kid you can relate to, he’s handsome and hilarious to everyone and has no trouble – but he watched Star Wars once! The X-Men are attractive young hairless nobodies plucked from the Disney Channel, because we need people on the covers of teen magazines! Those movies aren’t bad. They’re okay. I just don’t care. I’m not overwhelmed and no one is cheering the opening credits. There are my favorite characters, doing what they do, as I have seen them do for the past 15 years, but this time it’s purely for money. Older kids don’t high-five each other walking out of the theater of The Amazing Spider-Man, they just walk back to their cars in silence, remembering almost nothing, and wait a month for the next shot. No one falls asleep in the backseat on the way home with a smile on their face.

The movie I saw tonight, X-Men: Days of Future Past, ends up justifying my theater experiences since 2000. It takes what I saw as the hairless tween nothings and weaves them into the “classic” (lol) series that got me so excited. It doesn’t leave me in the dust. It recognizes its own past, gives meaning to experience. Hell, to make sense of a lot of it you have to see the bad movies. To get the most you have to suffer through the past like I did. That’s all I’ve ever asked for: consequence. What I’m watching, reading, listening to should matter, it should have ramifications for the rest of the story. (As a complete aside, me saying “listening to” spawned a realization: I love mewithoutYou because their albums and songs establish continuity. Demon Hunter mostly sucks because they made one okay album they’ve been repeating for the past twelve years.) Sure, I’m not saying X-Men represents the highest caliber of art. It reestablishes my favorite parts of the series with time travel and retcons. Shoot a bit higher than X-Men, and for God’s sake don’t let Brett Ratner near a dead fish much less an important franchise, but try to give me the same feeling I had tonight: a smile on my face for the film I’m watching and for what I watched as a kid. I’m out of the 18-24 age bracket and am getting closer and closer to leaving 18-35, and Hollywood could ditch me for being old and constantly reboot in order to let new middle school kids standing outside the Smithfield Cinemas see the origin, new and cleansed and ready for accepting Teen Choice Awards. But with this one movie, one little two hours of my life that I’m never really going to expect, I knew my own childhood wasn’t totally whitewashed.

I’m not saying DoFP is this amazing, important experience to everyone. It’s a really good comic book movie, and if you don’t have my own history then that’s really it. It speaks to me – and that’s sort of wrong, because no one was thinking of me when they made it. They just did what came naturally, and I’ve been along for the ride for most of my life.

Compiling my thoughts on The Muppets (2011)

Here’s a little bit I wrote on the 2011 Muppets film immediately after watching it upon its Thanksgiving weekend release.  I think I’ve improved as a writer since then, but I find the topic close to my heart and worth sharing.  Just ignore the mistakes that have since been corrected by taking ENGL 303.

Continue reading

Fictional Non-Fictional Fiction Writing

“They were all written by me,” he says.  “I made them up for this exercise.”

I chose the high fantasy over the twee indie story.  I went for the one that sounded like a He-Man episode, the one where apostrophes are in the middle of first names.  Khuz’har.  X’onitic.  Rek’falz.  What’ever.  I am lacking context, and I appreciate it.  I do not know the villain or his backstory and I do not know the princess or her backstory, but I do know that all writing should be different from my own.  My own is boring.  It is confessional in the overwrought Dashboard Confessional sense and in the frightening Sylvia-Plath-sticking-her-head-in-the-oven sense.  What do I have to write about?  If I rack my brain for stories, what can I come up with?  What can I relate?  What would fascinate listeners when they accidentally slap the dial in their car and end up on NPR?

Okay.

So there was this one time when I had my last day of high school.  The day ended early so my friends and I headed to Taco Bell for lunch.  No one probably remembers it but me.  Just a little feel-good celebration, nothing major or anything.  I liked that last full year in Indiana of just driving around with nothing specific to do.  Later on that night I had a party, and at that party I freaked out over irksome little details, nothing really worthy of my reaction.  It made me feel bad later.

Whoops, that sucked and went nowhere.  Better try again!

So there was this one time when I attended college but didn’t really go to any classes and had to drop out and ended up in the hospital for a bit and then later on I would attend college but not really go to classes and had to drop out and ended up in the hospital for a bit a-

Dammit, that’s not funny either.  That’s not what you people came to read!  That’s the Livejournal, not the novel.  Not the heartwarming tale.  I cannot write conclusions to my own confessions.  I do not know the endings to my own stories.  I have felt in flux since self-awareness kicked in.  My youth leader told me and tells me that I lead while being in the pack.  My brain works in quantum mechanics.  I am an adult and at the beginning of my adulthood.  I am making the right choices while determining which choices to make.  I see myself cathartically printing out this blog post and tearing it up eight years from right now.  I am aware of my sexual impulses, aware of the expectations I place on others, aware of Blackmon Road, and aware of Nicosia.  Awareness of my greater story means I cannot wrap up my tales with neat little bows.  When I am eighty I will be thinking of myself at eighty-one.

When does my heptalogy become bound in a neat box and sold on store shelves for a low price of seventy dollars?  No, when does my heptalogy become available in PDF format for seven dollars?  When can I stop writing about THIS?  When can I beat my head against the edge of my desk to make heroes fall out?  What can I secrete that inspires?  When will all young adults stop calling themselves “young adults” and simply write for adults?  When will I stop being told that it’s good to write about black and white nude photographs, hookah, acoustic guitars, incense, and that time Travis put his foot through the drywall?  When will my colleagues look at The Graduate as courageous honesty and not life’s template?

“My Khuz’har,” the father said, “When you meet the gongorad of Mount Tyr, what shall you do?”

“Father,” replied the young Khuz’har, “I shall stab it in its tar-black eye with my gilded rockedge.”

“Well, that’s not entirely necessary,” the father said.  “You may as well wait until its set is done, has made all the autographs required of it, and personally sit down with it to ask for advice concerning relationship issues.  Perhaps in twenty-five seasons you will consider attacking it.”

Visual Thinking

I use my right arm, the arm draped across her shoulder and down her own right arm, to pull her close and ask if she’s enjoying it.  We are watching The Great Muppet Caper.  That is not The Muppet Movie or The Muppet Show and it is not the same thing as subscribing to the Sesame Street YouTube channel because Elmo is cute.  This is a level below that.  This is placing feet on the next rung and climbing down into the next basement crypt.

The Muppet Movie was a runaway success and it walked away with a box office of seventy-six million dollars.  The Great Muppet Caper walked away with thirty-one million dollars.  We are climbing down into obscurity.  You are going to see the t-shirts on my shelf that my mother purchased for me at Christmastime.  They are of Kermit and Animal and the Sesame Street roster.  I appreciate them and I wear them to bed occasionally, but she confused stylish interest with interest itself.  That’s alright.  But at some point she will walk into my apartment and I will be wearing nothing and I will be watching Sam and Friends, and I do not know what she will think.

——————————————————————————————————————–

Do you like her?  Did you kiss him?  What were you saying about me?  I am a nosy person.  I bothered my friends.  Childhood trauma, suicidal ideation, eating disorders.  I was told about them so that I would quit asking, so I could go back to saying something funny.  Come up with new material.  Exploit it, exploit it, come up with new material.  I am twenty-three and I have to find balance.  I am not bipolar nor mentally ill.  I just care about what I care about, and the things I care about I care too much about.  I care about video game reviews, I care about the pretty girl in front of me in study hall.  I can care without saying “I love you” in the first week.  I love her, still, but that might not be endearing to everybody.

My father may be an introvert.  He has friends, but his friends are rarely seen.  His friends are not used as a support system.  He does not value time out of the house or time away from work if he is gone for more than a few hours.  But to label my father a hermit would be wrong.  I could take a picture of him, upload it online, and he would be fine with that.  His information is available, his address is possible to find.  If you look at the Raleigh Craigslist long enough you’ll surely find a bundle of chopped wood that can be picked up for free.  No one in my family is a recluse, they are just homespun.

Even as an introvert, I cannot understand the recluse.  The recluse avoids cameras and abhors interviews.  The well-known ones are those that have contributed some kind of great work and left the public world.  Some recluses may be mentally ill and some may be perfectly capable.  I understand the introvert.  I take the introversion from parts of my family.  But I would not avoid a camera or turn down an interview.  I want to be successful when all is said and done.  Not celebrity, but successful.  If anyone wants to break into my home and murder me in the dead of night, they may feel free to do so.  My address is

——————————————————————————————————————–

My mother keeps asking me for an updated photograph of myself.  The problem is that I don’t know who will take it.  Do I go to a professional?  Do I ask a friend to stand there awkwardly with a camera while I stand there awkwardly with a pose?  The last photograph she has of me is from August 2006, when I was inadvertently at my trimmest and most boyishly handsome.  I worry that picture will be the last, or the last of any importance.  I can simply disappear into the ether and be an idea instead of a tangible person.  Perhaps someone could go ahead and cut out my brain to place in a vat.  That way I won’t have to deal with taking pictures any longer.

I have long hair and I need a haircut, and I have a beard and I need to shave.  Maybe there is no specific “early 20s” variation of myself, but an altered shape based on mood.  Maybe all of my extremities will swing in the other direction after a nice hot shower, and then all my appearances would be rendered useless.

I am available for interviews.  Feel free to contact me, Oprah or The Daily Show or C-SPAN.  But even though I tried before, I am really just not the type to take selfies in the bathroom.

Oh, Look at That. Another Twist.

Here is critical endgame information for series you (my girlfriend) may not have yet completed!  Avert your eyes!

BioShock is played.  I mean, it has been played, I just finished it for the second time, and that nearly everything in it has been repeated ad nauseam, Portal style.  I wanted to start off this little monologue with the phrase “Would You Kindly,” but that phrase is so clutch to the BioShock experience that it has surely been the title of a thousand other musings written just in 2007.  What should I start with, then?  That line where they mention Piggly Wiggly and I get really excited because I’ve totally been to a Piggly Wiggly that used to exist in Smithfield, North Carolina?  No.  Let’s just continue.

“Would You Kindly,” is revealed, about two-thirds through the game, to be a form of mind-control used on Jack, the protagonist of the BioShock story.  When Atlas, your guide through Rapture who enjoys chiming in via radio, uses that phrase you are compelled to follow it.  Through those two-thirds the phrase really serves as nothing more than an arrow.  A quest marker.  A little exclamation point over the head of a blacksmith in World of Warcraft.  “Would You Kindly,” is the heads-up-display of your video game screen spoken aloud.  Of course, this comes as a terrible shock to the player.  An alarming amount of twists are given within a fifteen-minute span, and nearly everything you knew about Rapture turned out to be a lie.  That includes the player’s own autonomy.

Why are games so fascinated with directing your attention to the fact that they are, at the end of the day, controlled environments?  We all know that games are controlled by their developers, and, at the end of the creative process, by ourselves.  No one believes that Uncharted is a genuine experience wrought by the mashing of the X button.  And for as much as you can build in Minecraft, the pieces still run by a curator.  When they sit down with a game, players willingly suspend their disbelief.

Last year, Spec Ops: The Line made its own attempt to break the fourth wall.  The writing was tremendous and far, far denser than what the rest of the product would appear to offer.  When Captain Martin Walker blurts out “Oh, no, not this again,” during a helicopter turret sequence, the exact same one you had played at the beginning of the game that led a game-long flashback, you know Spec Ops has more than a few tricks up its sleeve.  You knew that when you “accidentally” dropped white phosphorus on innocent civilians while Walker’s face was reflected in the monitor of both his computer and yours.  Spec Ops desperately wanted to say…something, about mind control and training players to be killers and the lack of real choice even when choice seemed to be an option.

Perhaps the most famous case of player choice in modern gaming is evident in the Mass Effect series.  Developer BioWare, no stranger to choice in their previous games, set up the Mass Effect trilogy as a grand experiment for including choice that carries over from one game to the next.  So by the end of Mass Effect 2, one players’ experience may differ quite vastly from another players’.  But by the end of Mass Effect 3, their experiences came together in a frighteningly similar way.  Mass Effect’s choice system was perhaps too grand on paper to truly pull off in execution, because by the last game everyone’s choices had funneled into a single point.  The final option was an impersonal Red/Blue/Green option that left fans cold.  And it should have left fans cold!  BioWare had promised more than they could feasibly deliver.  So the whole time, throughout the hundred-or-more hours put into the three large RPGs, players were handed an illusion of choice.  It’s never the real choice, it’s always the illusion.  But that illusion was a brick wall when you were with that annoying, unnecessary StarChild.

The Metal Gear Solid series, specifically 2: Sons of Liberty, also went careening headfirst into insanity designed to affect Raiden as much as to affect the player.  So many games seem to desire pulling the rug from beneath the player.  Developers must get a sick satisfaction from letting you know “You were never really in control all alooooooooong!”  They aren’t wrong, and no game I’ve mentioned does it particularly poorly.  Much like the newly-christened All-Story (ancient aliens + chosen one), the trope of reminding players that they are, after all, merely players, is one that could quickly become overused.  If enough games decide they want to blow your effing miiiiiiiiiind by addressing the audience, even metaphorically, maybe that development itself will manifest in Newgrounds flash parodies.

BioShock is a fantastic game with a story that works and on so many more levels than the “Would You Kindly” example.  I am simply curious about the autonomous lie’s place in games, especially so many of such high profile.  As it is, I have never seen it be ineffectual.  But if developers of the future keep playing such mindbenders and let it influence their own writing, we could find ourselves with a field finely-tilled for growing illusion-of-choice brain twisters.  And if they were to be so prevalent, it would suddenly be the games which played it straight the most deserving of respect.

12/9/12: Your Junes Edition

You know, I don’t really have much to share this time around.  I finally submitted a story to The Anthology, but that was the very last minute and is only hopefully considered good enough for publication.  I mean, I wrote more for The Johnsonian as well, but they didn’t take it.  Their rejection was understandable; I’ve been so darn negative lately.  I need to write lighter pieces with names like “Why I Love Scrubs,” or “21 Things To Do On Your 21st,” or “Pineapples Are So Tasty, Yum, Yum, Yum!”  In my place, The Johnsonian picked up Patrick Key’s beautifully-titled “Age should bring a tastes.”

I’d be devastated if anyone sincerely believed that I’m a misanthrope, but I do admit a tendency to utilize misanthropic qualities from time to time.  My reconciliation is that my beliefs are to build a better foundation, not destroy an institution.  Still, it’s hard for me to avoid feeling more pious when compared to others in my age group.  I don’t mind someone writing “Key,” because that could be a typo or any person’s quick glance at an unfamiliar name.  “Age should bring a tastes,” however, is more or less an affront on the English language.  How does that get approved?  How does an editor sleep at night?  I’ve never been a newspaper editor, so I can’t rightfully play backseat driver and assure everyone of what better a job I’d do.  Commitment to craft is important, though.  I’m starting to think it’s why I write so little, despite wanting to write so much.  I am always concerned about quality, and that fact can put me in paralysis.

The Where the Wild Things Are film adaptation is a remarkable success because, despite the original book having only 48 pages, the additions are thematically consistent.  Unlike most adaptations that have to snip and cut important elements to fit a running time, the film works as a logical extension of the basic themes expressed over forty years ago.  I recall reading the book a few times as a child, and I recall it frightening me with its authenticity.  So much of children’s literature is inauthentic or, at the very least, scrubbed with gloss.  Honesty always makes the best writing, and, in the classic “Superman sucks, or, shut up about Jesus for once” context, I’d rather read about how I am rather than how I should be.  Where the Wild Things Are also makes me incredibly self-conscious, because I don’t know how to write stories so rich and multilayered.  I say “I liked the game Super Star Wars a lot,” and all that means is that I liked Super Star Wars a lot.  I may throw in some introspection, but that work never has hidden references to The Golden Bough.  Then again, I’d feel worse for forcing any of that.

Other than my constant, internal game of duck-duck-goose, everything is going swimmingly.  When not working on school, I’ve witnessed a treasure-trove of good material, including the sixth season of 30 Rock, Evangelion 2.0, High Fidelity, and Lincoln.  I even found the best song of all time in the Saints Row: The Third soundtrack, and I’ll probably pick up Crystal Castles’ third album sooner rather than later.  And I’m actually writing on my desktop machine again, though it’s without a proper graphics card.  That should be delivered to me sometime tomorrow, and if that installs properly, I won’t have much more to complain about.

I apologize if I ever come across as demeaning.  I’ll try to keep balance between the immediate ideal and the eventual ideal.

Purchases of Equal or Lesser Value

I’m hopeful there’s already been significant psychological research on a consumer experiencing Black Friday.  A graduate student somewhere must have a locked drawer full of the specific reasons why people love to stomp each other to death.  Maybe at next midnight copies of the work can be taped to the glass door front of every local CircuitCity or CompUSA or wherever it is that the kids shop these days.

My fingers move at incredible speeds when it comes time to explain the inner recesses of my mind.  It’s not as if I’m routinely asked about my stance on foreign policy, but if they do, I like to be prepared.  Sometimes I can go on about morality’s place in religion and forget to sleep.  Greater issues are important to me, and even if I say something as condensed as “Drugs are bad” or “Superman is good,” there’s probably an essay I built to support it.  I like sales.  They’re nice.  But I can’t look at a man’s brain juice running out of his fractured skull, and then look at a lanky 6’5” dude in a No Fear hoodie with a suspiciously-red sneaker and think there aren’t essays to write.  I cannot comprehend anyone who doesn’t go through a Russian novel’s worth of introspection whenever they encounter something troublesome.

After all that self-aggrandizing talk of ethics, my God, my first thought is to take everyone seen in those videos and nuke them from orbit.  There are hundreds of heads in those four-by-three videos all conglomerated together to create the husk of a mega-monster, and I have to kill it.  I have a problem, one that’s persisted for decades, where if I find significant flaw in another person I’m quick to assume their lack of worth.  A man could be the best father and husband the world has ever seen, but then he breaks someone’s glasses in a stampede and every kind deed he’s done is negated.  I suppose human beings are more complex than that, but the end goal is to not be.  In a way, I don’t feel as much sympathy for the lowly employees of these major retail outlets as others may.  Being put in such an abusive and genuinely life-threatening situation is worth storming into your manager’s office and quitting over.

Half of my life has been spent mulling over the ramifications of being a financially-stable straight white male in the middle class.  I question if my education was better, or if my parents reading to me had a profound impact, or if choosing Sesame Street over Barney really does make a kid more able.  While I may not always follow them, and I’m wrong more often than I care to admit, I do have some ethos that refuses to leave my core.  “Money isn’t happiness and goods aren’t happiness,” says the kid who received every video game system he asked for.  I could’ve been spoiled.  Hell, I don’t know, I could be spoiled.  I just know, from the perspective of someone who didn’t always have to fight a Black Friday crowd just to save money on a designer boot, that killing a child in the rush into a Wal-Mart isn’t going to bring my cat back or my grandfathers back or make my first relationship not a disaster.  I operate with that knowledge and if you lack that knowledge, I don’t know what to do.  I resort to anger and immediate thoughts of barren wastelands.  The act of mass consumption with disregard for human life seems primeval, and right now I’m sitting in a house as clean as my parents could possibly scrub it.  When your daddy leaves you and you get all those “daddy issues,” I can’t empathize, because my dad is here and is super nice most of the time.  I’m so very not handicapped that my mind jumps through hoops attempting to find reasons to die.

The fact is that I don’t want to be negative about others all the time.  I want to celebrate them.  I just see schlock on YouTube that makes me question, even rightfully, the absence of a basic ruleset that determines human decency.  For as isolated and introverted as I can be, I want to help every person who thinks that shit is okay.  I want to let them sleep on my couch and I want to cook a nice meal for them, if need be.  I don’t just get off on writing about fault all the time, but I want action to back it all up.  I want to give someone a gift because they’re special to me, not because I punched a grandmother in the face for a sick deal.  Dangit, world, let me be better.  You can be my belief if I can be your doubt.

The very notion of Black Friday (aside from the gruesome term that becomes a bit less gruesome when it’s applied in its figurative capitalist terms) isn’t inherently a bad one.  I’m inclined to spend money on Amazon every single year.  I just need to remember that what I’m doing is so first-world, so special, so far above the poverty line.  I’m still going to be insane whether or not I buy a video game.  These are separate issues, and I would be remiss to confuse the two.

11/12/2012: Nation of Domination Edition

Hey, you!  Yeah, I know you!  The person who keeps looking up “Patrick Kay Winthrop” or “Patrick Kay WordPress” in Google’s search field!  Awww, hey, buddy!  Here’s my third article for The Johnsonian!  It deals with mystic space reptiles that I would have loved to explore in more detail had I not been operating under a word limit.

My desktop computer, as it currently is, displays a “System Recovery Options” screen.  My precious hog of precious finite resources had a bad driver error in the hard drive (hopefully) that sent itself into a slow downward spiral to the point that it won’t even turn on anymore.  Thankfully, I bought a second drive in time to recover my data.  Oh, it’s not there to recover family keepsakes, it’s just recovering Crystal Castles songs and videos of The Matrix Online.  The priorities.

I’m actually really peeved at the whole process.  My machine was bought lightly-used from an eBay auctioneer who builds and immediately sells machines at discounts.  He made sure to include all the manuals, but didn’t offer receipts or Windows install discs.  On top of that, and on top of a graphics card I may have wrongfully assumed was the problem, it’s difficult for me to even parse what exactly the problem is.  This isn’t “Oh no, my mouse stopped working!”  It’s blue screens.  It’s BIOS.  It’s the deep, nasty, near-illicit levels of computer programming that was covered up by an influx of the casual market.  I haven’t seen some of these screens on my monitor since WarGames.

Then, my backup drive didn’t come with its necessary SATA cable.  Way to piss on my life, Western Digital.

Who cares, though?  The internet now uses the Cloud, which means I’ve been able to keep up with my silly mediums.  I made remarks recently about how dumb it was that Microsoft charges sixty dollars a year to watch YouTube on the Xbox 360.  PlayStation has my back, though.  That giant corporate monolith at least has the decency to not charge me for a free service, so I was able to watch Giant Bomb quick looks and 30 Rock episodes with some degree of regularity.  30 Rock was in a weird funk in its last couple of seasons.  It still existed as a funny, better-than-average show, but its sincerity seemed increasingly lost.  In the four or five episodes I’ve seen of 2011’s season, the lack of sincerity is actually used as a resource for humor.  Rather than playing the Scrubs failed line-walk where it attempts humor and sweetness in separate-but-equal measure, it just dives headfirst into cocaine madness.  That was a compliment.

I often, perhaps wrongly, pride myself on being an individual.  This doesn’t mean that I react to situations solely on the basis of being “different,” but I do tend to follow my heart.  Sometimes you stop eating at a restaurant because it’s what you imagine a decent human being would do, not because you were inspired to become one with the crowd in a political boycott.  I either shy away from small talk or let it be all I appear capable of, depending on the conversation.  People ask me what I want for a career, and I tell them, “To get paid for being myself.”  That’s an honest answer.  I presume that would come through in writing, but whatever works.  My parents treated me all special-snowflake enough for it to leave a permanent impression.  So it alarms me when a random person, pointing to no one in particular, can so clearly define the way I operate in just a few short seconds.

The best submissions come in late because all the good writers are either huge procrastinators or are such perfectionists that they won’t get their imagined magnum opus’ done until the last minute.  I sure don’t know if I’m good, but I know the last two speak some awkward truths.

10/27/2012: Weed Roots Edition

I believe I have difficulty writing in quantity because my ambitious nature is squashed by the reality of time and effort.  A thousand unwritten stories have found residence in my mind, and I create them to entertain myself.  Beside all that, here’s my second op-ed for The Johnsonian.  I don’t know how to fix Winthrop’s ridiculous internet standards, but I can, at the very least, formally acknowledge the issue.  I’ve been using the word ridiculous a lot lately, and I’m not sure why.  Anyway, the positive of reading the article online means you get a super high-definition version of the psychological horror from our newspaper cartoons.  The positive of reading the article in tangible form is that you get to see my half-smiling mug.  So pick your poison.

To try and cut the details short on this week’s Gaming Journalism~! fiasco, here are the basic details.  A columnist wrote a piece about how, while he had no evidence of the press’ corruption, some members of the media seem a bit too chummy with the idea of letting themselves be turned, with corporate public relations’ influence, into walking advertisements.  He pointed wildly at a few people who had done questionable things (like surrounding themselves with Dortios and Mountain Dew advertising, or tweeting hashtags to win Playstations), but never called anyone out directly.  He had no evidence!  It was a worthwhile point, but up its own ass as anything I’ll write here.  He did point to one woman who emblazoned her personal sites in advertisements for the not-yet-released, still desperate-for-marketing Tomb Raider game.  It was a random potshot at a random person who did a questionable thing that hundreds, if not thousands, of so-called journalists had done.  Instead of dealing with the comment with grace and clarity, she had a meltdown and called “libel,” essentially forcing the original columnist to be fired without a good reason.  In the confusion, people looked up this woman’s information.  She listed Square Enix as an employer.  She had written dozens of articles and reviews on that company’s products, consistently praising them.  Whether through simple young-person naivete or through a concerned effort to push product and profit off of lies, she was entirely corrupt!  Fancy that!  The columnist just walked in his town asking, “Are you The Devil?”  “Are you The Devil?”  “Are you The Devil?”  And that third person uttered an unholy roar and grew a second mouth to say, “I AM BEELZEBUB, LORD OF THE FLIES” and vanished.  The chances of that having happened are nearly unfathomable.  It went a little something like this.

Game fans, at least the ones obsessive enough to read and write about it on the internet every day, are as hypersensitive as anyone else.  If a game is scored too high, by their standards, it was obviously a sign that the publisher paid someone off.  Most of the time, the reality is that IGN handing 9.0 scores out like they’re free candy is due to fanboyish inexperience, not a bribe.  If a game is scored too low, reviewers get death threats that contain their street addresses.  The truth there is that no one is out to get games, to put them in their place.  Games should be awesome.  We should all be happy all the time, but sometimes that can’t happen.  Corruption in the media has happened, but it’s as rare as that bird Ash sees at the end of episode one.  A lot of the navel-gazing happening in games journalism is about Kotaku being too off-topic or Destructoid being super sexist, not a direct link to corruption to prove all the conspiracy theorists right.  This is exciting and important because it proves some amount of conspiracy theories entirely accurate, though we’ve seen nearly all other media personalities, one after the other, come out and state that they aren’t a part of the problem.  I hope that’s true.

I remember reading my old game magazines, the old GamePros or Game Informers or EGMs of yore, and occasionally seeing a two-page spread on some upcoming game, written as if it directly spoken to the reader.  It would tell you just how great Fear Effect 2 is going to be, see, it has these scientists [disclosure: not real scientists] there to prove it.  They were, essentially, infomercials.  What helped the situation, what made it not feel so damn shady, is that the infomercials would have big white letters at the top and bottom of the pages that clearly stated “ADVERTISEMENT.”  Interaction between advertisers, publishers, and press isn’t necessarily a toxic thing.  It can be a great thing for everyone involved, even without absurdly high scores and money changing hands.  What matters is transparency.  Transparency, transparency, transparency.

It’s nice to see Polygon establish a code of ethics right up front, the very second their site launched.  Giant Bomb, a site which was born out of a distaste for the political ramifications of press/publisher relations, has repeatedly stated that corruption is completely antithetical to their own code, and their content keeps proving that.  Even writers popping up on Twitter for a mere minute to say “Hey guys, I’m not totally crooked!” is a nicety that goes great lengths to proving that someone’s work is worth it.  Love is about opening your heart to the possibility of being betrayed.  You trust you aren’t being lied to, but do you know for sure?  Of course not.  You either give the benefit of the doubt or you spend the rest of your life pretending you live in The Truman Show.

Transparency is putting “ADVERTISEMENT” at the top of your infomercial, and it’s also differentiating between hardcore war zone journalists and the dude who writes for Us Weekly and asks if HD video is going to reveal Britney’s awful complexion.  Take Andrew McMillen, for example.  This is the dude who exposed the abysmal working conditions at Team Bondi, and now he’s the guy who did a tell-all of why Silicon Knights has been in such a rut for eight years straight.  That’s the gaming, super first-world equivalent of covering African civil war.  Compare that to Ryan Davis, a guy whom I professionally admire, whose primary duties are to critique Star Wars Galaxies on its final day while he streams on the internet.  Those are completely different things, right?  Friendship with PR representatives gets a pass as it varies by person, by situation.  These are real people involved in real situations, and human relationships are complex.  What’s wrong is to cast all of gaming journalism in a bad light because of one mistake (a mistake perhaps executed by more than we imagine) from a stupid person.  What’s right is to value each critic or journalist individually, based on their work or their transparency or their entertainment value or kindness.  I don’t say gaming journalism is dead because Jessica Chobot is a paid model more valuable to her company than the employees who do the work.  I just know IGN is valueless trash to me, and continue to love even more what I find morally redeeming in this world.

I’ll just link you to what Shawn Elliot wrote.

This weekend was also spent watching the Rebuild of Evangelion, the four-part remake movie series that updates the brilliant show.  I had seen the first film, 1.0, before, but needed a refresher.  I still think Evangelion has among the best openings to any program I’ve witnessed before, as it’s one that equally plays to and entirely subverts genre tropes.  That first movie is more or less a HD version of the first four episodes, but the final scene lets you know that things have changed.  This isn’t 616.  This is the Ultimate universe.  This is not what happened before.

2.0 (despite being released in 2009 it’s still the latest film) continues in the same Ultimate direction.  The similarities and basic plot flow of the television series remains, but wrenches are thrown into your expectations during nearly every scene.  There’s a new Lilith on Earth, but the old series’ one remains somewhere else.  Even though she’s promoted heavily, Mari, a brand new character, enters and exits the scene dramatically, never answering a single mystery.  It’s Asuka in the Angel-posing-as-an-Eva now, not Toji, so she’s taken out of the equation.  Hideaki Anno, the series’ creator and auteur, knows what you’re expecting and knows just when to throw you off course.  He makes the old new again.

As two individual films, I still can’t recommend Evangelion enough.  But what pulled the original series together, what made it all click, was the climax and fallout.  It’s a confusing series with an encyclopedia’s worth of lingo and religious interpretation, and by the end of the show nothing was explicitly laid out.  Instead, it all worked tonally.  My fear with Rebuild is that of, once again, expectation.  I’m used to Evangelion wrapping up in a romantic and melodic way, and I’m able to watch early episodes with full knowledge of how they contribute to the greater narrative.  In Rebuild, enough wrenches have been thrown that there’s no possible way to figure how the series will tie together.  It’s all up to the creator to redo what he has already done, but for a brand new situation.  Anno hasn’t failed me yet, but he’s always dangerously close to pulling a The Matrix Revolutions.

I guess love is about opening your heart to the possibility of being betrayed.

Molasses

In sixth grade, John Ehler and I waited over four hours for Cell to be defeated.  The promise that Cell’s story arc in Dragon Ball Z would conclude was true, though Cartoon Network gave no hint as to how long and drawn-out the process would be.  Long, drawn-out monologues were bookended by Nerf gun commercials.  My mom would eventually call us upstairs to eat some dinner, and by the time we went back into the basement, Cell was still talking into the camera.  That was anime for me, for a long time.  If it wasn’t Pokemon, it was DBZ.  I had a DBZ BIG DOGS t-shirt, though, thankfully, I never ventured into the button-up variety.  At some point, children of 2001 heard that anime was stupid and dumb and our anticipation for the daily Toonami was easily released.

Later, I would learn that DBZ was an example of the shonen anime style.  Shonen focuses on young males aged ten and up.  The ridiculous length of story arcs, along with the ridiculous abilities and ridiculous muscles on the heroes, is obviously enrapturing to a sixth grader and not a twelfth grader.  Part of growing up, I feel, is picking the bones of youth.  Understanding what was a fad and what carries sentimental value is important to the adult consumer.  I’ve picked up the manga Bleach because I want something enjoyable to read, because I’ve wished to satiate an eager fan, and because I need to pick the bones of sixth grade.  It might not be Dragon Ball Z, but the structure is similar.

Bleach starts off with light-hearted enjoyment, even while the terminology is going bonkers.  The premise, that of Ichigo Kurosaki becoming a Soul Reaper to protect his family from what basically amounts to “evil ghosts,” is entertaining and borderline incredible.  Much in the same way I’ve always assumed Dragon Ball is incredible (without ever having watched it), the beginning ten volumes of Bleach construct scenarios that continuously cause me to empathize with the principal characters.  Your basic Japanese dress-school and perverted friends appear, as do familiar stories including the flamboyant television host without a lick of skill and the passionate remembrance of an anime character’s deceased mother.  Tite Kubo, Bleach’s lone author and illustrator, has a knack for characters.  Humor shines from each one, though in a variety of ways.  The same wacky situations exhibit different responses, and even the same primary motivations for similar characters won’t stop Kubo from giving each a personality and silhouette all their own.  Not knowing the full picture, I hesitate to say that the initial setting of Bleach is its best.  Another ten volumes later, up to twenty, I do say that it leaves a fantastic first impression.  Kubo does not reinvent the wheel with this series.  It’s a joy because of it.

As soon as the cast enters the Soul Society to save Rukia Kuchiki, Kubo’s ambition explodes into a blinding ball of fire.  While Bleach already had a large cast of characters on Earth, the “Heaven” of the series more than doubles that amount.  Rather than doling out each new character as need be, they are presented all at once in a splash page.  When Momo Hinamori cries over Sosuke Aizen’s death, you, the reader, are also expected to cry, despite not having a chance to properly meet either character yet.  As the series continues and spends more and more time in this one story concerning the rescue, one does develop feelings for the assorted Captains and Assistant Captains through a remarkable intimacy.  Even the primary cast of the first ten volumes, the heroes on their way to save the day, are sometimes left entirely out of volumes, what constitutes a real-time eight or ten weeks’ worth of content.  Characters you thought would be important until the end are cast aside.  As soon as Uryu Ishida seems important he’s ignored in favor of Shunsui Kyoraku.  Then Kyoraku is ignored in favor of Kaname Tosen, and so on.  The new terminology for this realm flows like a damn rapid, repeating “bankai” and “reishi” despite never making them seem directly important to story.  The information will rush nonstop, but the actual ramifications are slow.  By volume ten, the steadily rising line of the Bleach story becomes a vertical bar.

The setting Kubo has constructed reminds me of one of my own nerdy interests.  I’ll read a Star Wars anything, no matter how poorly done it is.  At a certain point I stop looking at the specifics of a film’s plot and simply enjoy spending time in my favorite fictional realm.  I imagine fans of Bleach share the same sentiment.  This isn’t to say the plot of Bleach is poor (it’s actually quite enthralling), but the pacing takes a backseat.  If Kubo weren’t so good at drawing cool-looking people and giving them fascinating characteristics, the pace of lots of things happening with nothing really happening would be infuriating.  Instead, I can’t help but smile while reading.  Sure, this one battle takes seven chapters, or most of a lone volume, but it has characters I enjoy, being enjoyable.  He’s all-too conspicuously making this up as he goes along, which is a tactic difficult to control.  The creativity in Bleach is at a constant, though, so it overwhelms most negatives.

I have nostalgia when reading Bleach.  I remember so vividly the equal measure of whimsical enjoyment and cries for a faster story while watching Dragon Ball Z, and I feel many of the same emotions here.  Here, however, Tite Kubo has a series that I don’t think I could give up on if someone on the internet points out some flaw in Japanese cartoons and comics.  Bleach adheres to a formula.  Yet unlike Akira Toriyama, who never could make more than five compelling characters at a time, Kubo has a party of dozens.  At Volume 20, I’m not even close to finishing the series, which has continued up to Volume 56 and is ongoing.  I would be completely amazed if the series’ ending wraps any part up with a neat bow.  Instead of stomping and complaining about an entire genre’s perceived flaws, it might be best to accept them.  Yes, Bleach does what Dragon Ball Z did, but it does so in a more compelling way.  Perhaps I’ve gone soft, but I now find those pacing issues a bit charming.  I find a whimsical, often melodramatic, often serene and beautiful, manga series endearing rather than frustrating.  Who cares about pacing when you’re this entertained?

No media should be given a free pass, but Bleach does deserve to be understood for exactly what it is.  Nothing more and nothing less.